2022 D-I Men’s Breakout Player of the Year

Highlighting players who took a leap toward stardom in the division this spring.

Ultiworld’s 2022 College Awards are presented by the National Ultimate Training Camp; all opinions are those of the author(s). NUTC helps young players become better athletes and community members.

Each year, Ultiworld presents our annual College Awards. Our staff evaluates the individual performances of players from throughout the season, talking to folks around college ultimate, watching film, and look at statistics, voting upon the awards to decide those to be honored. The regular season and the college Series are both considered, with extra emphasis for performances in the competitive and high-stakes environment at Nationals.

The Breakout Player of the Year recognizes rising juniors and seniors who made themselves known in a new light this season. While our nebulous definition of “breakout” reflects an evolving set of criteria, rather than celebrating the improvement of those from whom big things were already expected, we aim to use this award to celebrate the emergence of those who previously have not been on the national radar. Whether it be through growth in ability, role, or both, the Breakout Player of the Year and runners-up honor those who rose to the occasion with improved and high-impact performance on a new level this season — putting them squarely in the spotlight moving forward.

D-I Men’s 2022 Breakout Player Of The Year

Winner: Rutledge Smith (North Carolina)

North Carolina's Rutledge Smith. Photo: Paul Rutherford -- UltiPhotos.com
North Carolina’s Rutledge Smith. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

Without question, the single greatest revelation of the 2022 season was the play of UNC Darkside’s Rutledge Smith. In the fall, he looked like the kind of solid roleplaying underclassman with which Darkside have been buttressing their elite cores for years. You know the type: solid fundamentals, upper-mid-range athleticism, and a tight leash. Every team needs them, and some of them play their way into stardom by their senior year. Smith, however, in his second National Championship campaign, completely broke the mold.

So rangy that he at times looked like a copy+paste job of fellow handler John McDonnell, he seemed to absorb all of the older player’s short pass release points – and add some of his own. Smith’s signature low step-through backhand might have been the most devastating break throw on display in the division this year. When the UNC O-line were backed into a corner, it seemed like Smith was the one to throw them out of it. There are no two ways about it: it was brilliant work on an accelerated development path for a player who will be on disc for one of the best programs in the country for years to come.

First Runner-Up

Paul Krenik (Minnesota)

Minnesota's Paul Krenik. Photo: Paul Rutherford -- UltiPhotos.com
Minnesota’s Paul Krenik. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

For a team that built its reputation on offensive efficiency and explosiveness, Krenik was the do-everything hybrid the Grey Duck offense needed to take some pressure off grad student Cole Jurek. Krenik finished Nationals high on the statistical charts (second on the team with 12 goals, and fourth on the team with 8 assists) and even higher on the eye-test. At times he downright looked like Minnesota’s best player despite the team playing sparingly in the fall while the rest of the division competed for spots at Nationals. With the ability to get open in isolation and the trust of the rest of the team to handle the disc in key moments, and not to mention a nose for the disc on defense when necessary, Krenik is a player Grey Duck has the good fortune, or dare we say luxury, to build around for the next few seasons.

Second Runner-Up

John Clyde (Texas)

Texas' John Clyde. Photo: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
Texas’ John Clyde. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

The future is bright in the Lone Star State. Texas TUFF may not have made it beyond prequarters at Nationals, but they are a program waxing toward much higher future potential thanks to sophomore and junior classes that includes the likes of 2021 BPOYY runner-up Xavier Fuzat, Aaron Barcio, Jake Worthington, and Zach Slayton. Perhaps the most important member of that group is John Clyde.

Clyde played virtually every D-line point for Texas this year, pulling and picking off deep shots against the zone, and guiding the counter after every turn. He was also the first to cross over when the O-line began to struggle: a cool head and one of the division’s smoothest backhands can do wonders for an offense. With a wealth of talent around him for the next couple of seasons, look for Clyde to lead the program deeper into the bracket.

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

  2. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).

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